By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Shedding some light on the future of downtown Manteca: Will it happen?
Dennis Wyatt
Dennis Wyatt

The current Manteca City Council is about to shed some light on the question that has perplexed elected leaders, responsible property owners, merchants, and the community for decades — how do you transform downtown Manteca into a vibrant 21st century community gathering place to lure more people and commercial ventures.

Actually Manteca has had the answer all along. All it took was council members listening to each other, taking two separate issues and making them one, and they may have found a way to stop the half century of wandering around in circles when it comes to downtown.

While you shouldn’t break out the champagne bottles quite yet or get giddy given the first step requires a bit of execution by City Manager Tim Ogden and his staff.

The possible answer provided Tuesday by the City Council is more aptly the next step forward to literally shedding more light on the situation.

Last year Councilman Gary Singh brought up how dark East Yosemite Avenue is between the block where the American Legion is located and Frémont Avenue. He was especially concerned how dark it was in front of Manteca High where there are a lot of activities in the evening and could be even more so if the city joined forces with the school district to upgrade the Dorothy Mulvihill Theatre so it could be more muscular for the high school and do double duty as a community performing arts center.

A few months later several people approached Councilwoman Debby Moorhead with the same concerns. Staff dutifully noted the concerns raised by Singh and Moorhead.

Then council members submitted their respective top five municipal goals earlier this month for the upcoming fiscal year starting July 1. 

Mayor Ben Cantu’s goals included two about downtown including one regarding extending the ornamental Tidewater-style Street lighting down Yosemite Avenue west to the Manteca Historical Society Museum and east to Frémont Avenue. Cantu — arguably the biggest advocate for investment in downtown Manteca outside of merchants and the responsible property owners that have a direct financial stake — saw it as a way for the city to move forward downtown while the private sector works to get new initiatives up and running.

Ogden — who has had a hand in overseeing the makeover of several downtowns before arriving in Manteca — put two and two together and on Tuesday asked the council if there was consensus to explore the feasibility of extending the street lighting.

While this doesn’t sound like a big deal, it is. Plus it is do-able without hiring “idea” consultants or figuring where you will get the money. The city is sitting on a $1.5 million economic reserve that grows each year with tax receipts that lists one of its intended uses as the revitalization of downtown. Adding two dozen or so Tidewater-style street lights would be do-able.

It would address the lighting concerns for public safety while at the same time would extend the perceived visual boundaries of downtown from Sequoia Avenue where two of the city’s more historic buildings are — the city’s first hospital built in 1919 that has been restored beyond its original grandeur as the HOPE Family Shelter as well as the museum that is located in what was once one of Manteca’s original churches — to Fremont Avenue.

One of the biggest concerns has been whether they’d be another grandiose plan developed for downtown that would enrich consultants with no promise of it working before any public sector investment went forward specifically on changing the character of downtown.

While Cantu is right that eventually there needs to be a very tight plan in terms of what needs to be done and allowed  in order to set the stage for the greatest success, it makes sense first to dust off the plan that provided the framework for all of the positive changes in downtown since the start of the 21st century — the Tidewater-style lights and streets furniture, finally getting  the street pavers right (but they need to be cleaned after 15 years and then cleaned annually), expanding Library Park, the location of the transit station with a community room that is significantly under used, the murals, and the creation of mini plazas on Maple Avenue and in front of the Legion Hall.

But until the time that all of the proverbial cats have been herded — at least the ones that are willing to cooperate with each other — so a workable blueprint that everyone can make work can be agreed upon the city needs to find a way to move forward.

The ornamental street light plan would effectively delineate the eastern and western edges of downtown along Manteca’s marquee east-west street — Yosemite Avenue. The city has already taken a small step needed to realize the limitations and needs of the historic core of downtown — the blocks on Yosemite that straddle Main Street as well as along Yosemite Avenue to Library Park — by imposing separate zoning rules for that area that take into physical limitations and other concerns. The rest of the downtown or central district is more likely to accommodate some of the bells and whistles that many say that want to see in a downtown gathering place such as robust al fresco dining.

If this is the route the council ends up taking, they might also want to embrace a change order for the Yosemite Avenue paving upgrade that includes pedestrian crossing signals with flashers extended over the street at Garfield as well as Sherman avenues so it matches the Tidewater motif. The more through the streetscape design is the more effective.

Keep in mind the street light proposal fits nicely into the private sector endeavor now underway to convert the former Kelly Brothers Brewing Co. in the old El Rey structure into an events center, the initial modernization and reorientation of Manteca High that will start this spring, and coming upgrades along Moffat Boulevard associated with the push to being ACE service to downtown Manteca by 2023.

At that point — coupled with the events and other changes the fledging downtown merchants association is rolling out — the canvas for central Manteca/downtown will be better defined with a bustling transit center and Manteca High re-orientated to create possibilities along the Moffat Boulevard that when combined with heading north along Main Street toward Alameda will provide the space to create a downtown/central district a vibrant city of 100,000 deserves. Keep in mind at the current annual numeric growth Manteca will reach that benchmark before 2040.

The question now is will further exploration result in a firm council directive that will be executed in a timely manner.

In other words, will the street lights be in place this calendar year?